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In Philippians 1:27, Paul exhorts the community to do one thing in his absence: “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” In this way, Paul says, your worthy lifestyle will be a “clear sign . . . of your salvation” (v. 28). At first glance, it seems that Paul, the Apostle of grace, is promoting a salvation by works. It seems that we somehow need to prove ourselves worthy of the gospel before receiving salvation, with all the work of salvation falling into the lap of the believer. You will certainly find this perspective in both ancient and modern views of salvation. But is this self-saving message promoted by the Apostle Paul? A close look at Philippians 1:27 provides the answer.

The Greek verb politeuomai, translated “let your manner of life be,” is an imperative, that is, a command. By using this verb, Paul evokes the image of a city (politeuomai is derived from polis, meaning “city”). According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, the city (polis) in ancient Greece was likened to a partnership or fellowship. In it, each citizen incurred the mutual obligation to carry out civic duties. Citizens were obliged to use their talents and gifts for the corporate good. However, the “city” Paul has in mind distinguishes itself from all others in one monumental way—the constitution of this city is “the gospel of Christ.” The gospel is the legislation to which the Philippians must conform. They must conduct themselves in a manner worthy of its demands, but as citizens of a heavenly—rather than earthly—city (3:20).

But what does it mean to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? The answer is found in 1:27–28: “So that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” With “one spirit” and “one mind,” Christians at Philippi, like the members of ancient societies, constitute a single body. But unlike secular societies, they “stand” and “strive” for the “faith of the gospel.” They are to stand united against danger for the sake of Christ without becoming “frightened” by their “opponents.” “This,” Paul declares, is a sign of destruction for the opponents but of salvation for believers.

But what does “this” refer to? What is its antecedent? “This” points back to the whole of 1:27–28. Their united, steadfast resolve for the gospel in the midst of opposition and suffering is precisely what Paul means by living in a manner “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” “This” (i.e., their worthy conduct) serves as a sign of their “salvation” (v. 28).

Truly, God begins and ends the Christian life.

If we were to stop there, it would logically follow that if believers, out of some innate worth, prove themselves worthy of the gospel, then their actions will result in their ultimate salvation. Is this another version of the worldly mantra “Be a good person, and God will save you”? No. Notice what Paul does. He cleverly inserts a subtle (yet powerful) phrase that completely undercuts that line of reasoning: “and that from God” (v. 28). Again, we’re confronted by another pronoun. What does this second pronoun refer to? It not only points to “salvation” in the same verse but also reaches further back to the whole of their worthy conduct in verses 27–28. This may seem insignificant, but it is vital for understanding this text. Their ultimate salvation and their worthy conduct are “from God.” They are God’s gift of grace (1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:12–13; 1 Thess. 5:23–24). This means that a believer’s salvation is given rather than earned and that a believer’s worth is divinely created rather than naturally cultivated. It is God who enables their steadfast unity in the gospel through adversity, and it is God who ultimately saves. All of it is “from God,” and therefore God rightly deserves all the praise, glory, and honor (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Rev. 4:11).

Sensing the need to provide a reason for this theologically weighty claim, Paul continues in Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” The word “granted” (echaristhē, a cognate of charis, “grace”) once again depicts God as the primary giver in this heavenly city, the One who graces the community with the threefold gift of faith, suffering, and salvation: (1) believing in the gospel grants entrance into the city (v. 29); (2) suffering, coupled with the divinely granted perseverance of the community in verses 27–28, characterizes Christian life within this city (v. 29); and (3) salvation is the end for which the heavenly city was constructed (v. 28). All of this, from start to finish, is brought into being by God’s grace.

Truly, God begins and ends the Christian life (1:6). We do not work—whether in our own effort or even with God’s assistance—to become people worthy to receive salvation. That is how the world thinks. “If I’m good, I’ll get good things.” That is why the gospel of Christ is so unnerving to the world. It powerfully subverts every worldly notion of worth and salvation. Sinners, with no worth of their own, who believe and rest in the gospel of grace become worthy “in Christ.” Sinners are neither worthy (Rom. 3:12; 4:5) nor godly apart from Christ (Phil. 3:10–11, 23). It is only when we receive Christ and all His saving benefits by grace alone through faith alone that we are declared righteous or worthy “in Christ.” And we know that those whom God declares righteous are, subsequently, actually made righteous. But we become citizens of God’s kingdom and gain access to the good things of salvation not because God makes us righteous or worthy but because we have been counted righteous or worthy through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.

My hope is that Paul’s prayer would become our own, as we continue depending on the grace of God to live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ. “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:11–12).

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